Congo’s Forest Crisis Needs Heroes

There are heroes, but are there enough ?

Pierrot from Lola Ya Bonobo
Pierrot Mbonzo, Educator based out of Lola Ya Bonobo in Kinshasa

If you have read many of these posts, you too must feel the urgency. The challenges to Congo’s “wild wealth” are enormous.

In the Garamba National Park, Virungas National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park large areas have been held by rebels who hunt freely for food and profit.

In Salonga National Park and Okapi Reserve the poachers have often had the backing of small-time army officers or police.

Chizunga- one of many hero-park guards
Jean Chizungu, park guard from Kahuzi Biega National Park

And in the rural out-back there is a massive underclass, not necessarily hungry, but poor.  You can eat from your garden, but often it cannot produce the cash you need to buy clothes, get medical treatment, and educate for your children….let alone acquire a tin roof or a motorcycle.   What is more, without fail, if the forest near your village still has animals, meat buyers will come and they will bring cartridges for your home- made 12 caliber rifle.

Venty prize winner
Emmanuel Venty’s courage and humanity have been the success of many anti-poaching missions.

The bushmeat market is unregulated:  wood-smoked carcasses of protected species and unprotected species lay side by side, undifferentiated, in city markets.  The forest is an open commons; if it is not you that shoots the black and white colobus or traps the okapi, it will be your neighbor.

Who is making a difference? Though few in number and often far surpassed by rebel fire-power, the park guards often act with amazing courage.   Outside of parks sometimes a traditional chief or just an ordinary citizen will make a remarkable difference at a critical point on the map.  The Abraham Conservation Award is to celebrate and sometimes commemorate these people and their sacrifice.  In Kinshasa, on the 11 March 2009, 16 people from around the country will receive a medal and an award. These people are listed below:

Two park guards killed in action:

  • Kambale Kalibumba
  • Kongolo Musefu

A park  guard wounded in action, but still active:

  • François Linga Kansilembo

A park guard and a local conservation NGO leader, both held captive and used as slave labor, have come back and are still active:

  • Antoine Bahati Garasama
  • Jean Chizungu Kazingufu

A park warden who was flogged for his attempt to control illegal trade, who received death threats, and who is still a park warden and active :

  • Paulin Ngobobo

A conservation worker who was stoned, threatened with machetes and received death threats, and is still active.

  • Serges Ukundji Apamato

Two Park guards who continued to work in rebel held zones monitoring gorillas despite death threats, and they are still active:

  • Innocent Mburanumwe Nzabonimpa
  • Diddy Mwanaki Tsongo

Two local chiefs who stood up for the integrity of a protected area despite the wrath of would-be park exploiters:

  • Chief Alimasi Tambanakumange
  • Chief Iyomi de Yongo

A park warden who successfully collaborated with the military of several sides in the conflict in order to control both poaching and mining within a Reserve through the heat of the war:

  • J.J.Mapilanga wa Tsaramu

A local villager working courageously with conservation NGOs to fight poaching in a park :

  • Emmanuel Venty Booto

The son of a local chief who created an NGO to revitalize traditions to protect bonobo and to hire ex-poachers:

  • Jean Christophe Bokika Ngawolo

An educator who with great energy brings a new message in a new away to thousands of Kinshasa children and distant villagers concerning bonobo:

  • Pierrot Mbonzo

A park medic who risked his own life to save wounded park guards:

  • Jean-Marie Mafuko

These heroes have done great things – their tasks and their sacrifice were enormous.  Are they enough?  No, Conservation in Congo will continue to need heroes.  And since the voting-in of these heroes, more heroes have been made. Alas, may they rest in peace.

Chief Iyomi _ Salonga National Park
Chief Iyomi de Yongo, whose traditional lands are within a Park, has nevertheless offered invaluable help to conservation.


  1. michael
    Posted 2009-02-22 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I really appreciate this brave men

  2. Posted 2009-02-24 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Very nice article on remarkable persons.
    Good to know that they will receive and award.
    Warmest congratulations to all of them
    Susana Pataro (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

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